Sound Check Sound Design with Kelly Berry
posted by October 2 at 10:24 AMon
Heads be fed. Today we talk to Kelly Berry, one of Seattle’s finest sound engineers. Let us graze upon his knowledgeable and knowing ear-brain. Kelly owns and operates the sound systems at Neumos and Chop Suey and maintains and helped design the systems at King Cobra and Re-bar. He is also Mudhoney’s sound engineer, traveling with them to do their concert audio reinforcement. Kelly approaches what he does as a musician with sympathy for the needs of those onstage:
What is your general approach to designing sound for a room?
Berry: Assess what its purpose is: live, dance, or spoken etc, and the type of music within the category. Look at the shape and acoustic treatment needs of the space and work out a plan utilizing the information.
What are the differences between the systems at Neumos, Chop Suey, and King Cobra?
All three rooms are narrow spaces with different architectural obstacles. Chop Suey has a stage built into a fake pagoda that the sound system has to fit into where you lose three feet of ceiling height. Neumos and King Cobra both have balconies on one side of the room and the other side is flat against a wall. This creates a potential for the stereo image to sound different from side to side and needs to be designed around. Sight lines need to be taken into consideration. Budget and income also potentially play huge roles in the design process.
What was the most challenging part about designing the systems for those rooms?
Money vs. budget.
Neumos did a sound system redesign last year. Why did they redesign? And could you talk about the beautiful Funktion One / Tannoy speakers there? They are beautiful. I kiss them.
It was assessed that Neumos needed to be more touring act friendly and there was a new ownership group that had a more music centric agenda. We worked out budget and got to work. The Tannoy IQ designed by Funktion One became the right fit for the room. Tannoy is a high fidelity company based in Scotland UK that utilizes their “Dual Concentric” transducer in a high definition sound reinforcement application. Very little electronic time alignment is needed in the mid to high band because the drivers are essentially in absolute acoustic alignment. The response I have gotten is very positive.
When you find a dead spot in a room, what can you do? Are there any dead spots at those clubs?
Most dead spots occur on the leading edge of the stage because to get coverage there would mean acoustical feedback before adequate gain in the main speakers. This is not as critical in playback music environments but is a huge factor in live music. There are dead spots in parts of the balcony in both clubs with balconies.
When you tour with Mudhoney, you bring your own mics, right? What is the key to doing Mudhoney’s sound?
Yeah, I bring virtually all the mics for the band, it keeps them healthy from dirty smelly venue mics and insures at least that I know the beginning of the chain is good. The guitar sound is key and fitting it in the mix is an essential puzzle piece around all the other important pieces.
Please bequeath some form of Mudhoney story.
Most Mudhoney gigs are outside of this country in much larger venues than we play locally. The challenge is always to make the speaker system and the console that you are mixing on comfortable so that the “art” of mixing can take place. This can be a challenge night after night. The so called “digital” mixing console is omnipresent in many different flavors. I take to them pretty naturally because I have a strong fundamental background.
The tragic reality of these consoles became obvious on our last local gig at a KEXP Barbeque. The generator power started getting unreliable and at first some amps turned off. Then the electricity powering the console and all the recording gear out front went down. The digital console erased itself mid gig and I had to re-write all 19 channels as the band started to play again. Not fun to write EQ, gain, compression, gating, and routing for all those channels while the client looks on. I screamed some ugly things that night, I was not happy. But now I have most of the major digital console starting points saved on USB sticks, lesson learned.
Berry played drums / electronic drums in one of the Northwest’s first electronic bands in the early 80’s “Applied Science” while attending WWU in Bellingham. He plays in the ska big band Tiny Hat Orchestra, the almost all gay country band Purty Mouth w/ Mark Mitchell and Kurt Reighley, and the rock ensemble Bricklane. He has a BA from UW from the CHID department and was the house live sound engineer at Re-bar and Moe’s in the ‘90’s, and Arospace at the turn of the century.